It’s St Andrew’s Day today…. and how better to celebrate than with a post about Scotch.

On holiday in Derbyshire earlier this year I happened (!) into a specialist whisky shop in Bakewell.

I love my whiskies smoky and peaty (see maple syrup) and I thought I had found the within-my-budget ultimate with Caol Ila 18 year old.

Nevertheless, I like to think I have an open mind, and prior to driving on up to Ullapool via the Edradour distillery (more on that anon) I thought I should do some basic research.

So I swaggered into the Wee Dram in Bakewell and laid down my challenge – what can you suggest that might beat the unbeatable?

Andy, behind the counter, didn’t blink an eye. “Have you tried the Ardbeg Uigeadail?” he asked, with the smug air of a man who had just topped my full house with a royal flush.

I have to admit I was smitten from the off, but in the interests of research I was determined to be thorough and asked for alternatives…but all paled beside the mighty Ardbeg.

“Maybe it’s just me” I pondered. So further rigorous scientific investigation was clearly in order. The first stage was to try it out on my travelling companion in Scotland, and, having jointly downed nearly a third of a bottle at one sitting (and the Ardbeg is cask-strength – a very serious 54.2%) I concluded that one other person, at least, agreed with my assessment.

The second stage of the experiment occurred, appropriately, in the early hours of St Andrew’s day today. All researchers were blindfolded and the order of the tasting was switched around to ensure the whiskies couldn’t be identified. 

Caol Ila vs Ardbeg

battle of the titans

This was the result:

 

Caol Ila 18 years(pronounced ka’ leela*)Ardbeg Uigeadail (pronounced oog-a-dal)
researcher AMuch more fruity, not so smoky, taste is younger. Also kind of soft… burning but in a nice way.Smokey…YEAH…I really like this one… hmm…also soft, goes easily over the tongue but doesn’t burn
researcher BThis one now…it smells very different. Not so smokey, smells much more fruity. This one is going to be younger.Very smoky smell. Hmmmm… …rich, mature .. YES!
researcher CThis one doesn’t have nearly as much of a nose to it. It slips down as much ‘sweeter’… maybe slightly honeyed… did you add a drop of water? (I confirmed that both samples had had two or three drops added). The other one has much more of a bite, this one slips down more easily, I don’t find it so complex.(Said with confidence) “Yes, I think this is the Caol Ila… it’s smokier than the Ardbeg I had earlier this evening, and it’s peatier”
researcher DNice taste.. a little bit oilyAha! More of a kick, smokier than the other.

So, the Ardbeg won hands down. Lorraine Miller, of Ardbeg, explains “it’s the casks  it’s matured in (ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks)  that makes the difference. We don’t specify how long it’s been matured for as we concentrate on the flavours rather than the age of the spirit!” . These casks give it a luscious, raisiny taste and a sort of Christmas cake and Christmas tree sort of aroma.  It’s non chill-filtered (chill-filtering is often done for the US market where a whisky which becomes cloudy is often considered dubious)  at high strength, which retains  flavour and gives more body and added depth.

I don’t think I could beat the prosaic description of fellow blogger, All Things Whisky, for this wonder whisky. He writes:

“Can you hear the distant rumblings? Imagine the sky turning the color of bruises and black eyes?
This…this is the fearsome dark storm of Islay. Its enormity is almost intimidating. Its might and majesty so beyond the scope we’re used to seeing in such a young and core range bottling. This is like standing on the shores of Islay while the skies tear open above. Like being lambasted by gusts of rain and hurricane winds. And also like feeling grateful simply for having stood so close to the vortex and lived to tell. This is nature’s fiercest, distilled and decanted. This is one of the most blindingly original whiskies I have ever tried….. This is a sublimely heavy and brooding dram. A ‘noir’ whisky, if ever one was made. Deeper and darker than a Lynch movie, this is a whisky for the most introspective and dark-hearted to mull over in the most forbidding depths of the darkest lounge.”

I couldn’t put the advice re water better than this review on the For Peat’s Sake site – add the essential couple of drops but no more:

“Adding water to this is like putting Kate Upton in a restrictive bra so my experience is full strength….. what synthetic motor oil must taste like to a Corvette.”

Say no more!

*Note: re pronunciations of whiskies follow this link, which advises pronouncing Caol Ila in a different way… but the above is how I was taught during my travels in Scotland.

 

This post is dedicated to Maurice Raffael

Caol Ila vs Ardbeg

battle of the titans

Enjoy listening to Mahler’s Titan as you taste.

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